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Wet Binding

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #79 (July, 2007).

For book makers out there who want a break from needle, thread, and paste, I introduce the wet-bound book. Using basic sheet-forming skills alongside special couching methods, you can create codices and accordion books bound by pulp alone.

You will need to couch your sheets onto heavy-weight pellon. Scraps of old bed sheets will work as well, but will slow down the drying process. Start by pulling a sheet of paper and couching it onto a base sheet of pellon. Having a felt or two at the very bottom of your pile will aid your couching. The codex structure will have a wide spine along one side of the book, much like a Japanese stab-bound book, so you will need to decide how wide you want this spine to be. The narrower it is, the more accurate you will have to be in the placement of your couching. For simplicity, let’s assume a one-inch spine. Place a second sheet of pellon over the first sheet, leaving a one-inch strip of your first wet sheet uncovered on the left-hand side. This strip is where the spine of your book will be; the sheets you couch will fuse along this strip once they have been pressed.

Couch your second sheet directly over the first. Do not worry that the two wet sheets of paper are touching along the left edge: this is the point! Lay another pellon down, lining it up with the previous pellon. Continue in this manner until you have couched as many sheets as you want in your book. All the sheets will touch one another along the left side, with pellon separating them on the right. [See Diagram] When placing your final piece of pellon over the last page, allow it to cover the whole book. The whole book should then be placed between felts and boards and given a light pressing (about the same pressing you would give to Eastern-style sheets).

Your wet-bound book will require care in drying. Place the pressed book between dry felts or blotters and dry under weight. After the first day of drying, take the book out and replace the pellon with dry sheets or paper towels, change the blotters or felts, and place back under weight. Exchange wet interleaving for dry periodically until the book is completely dry. The more frequent the exchange, the more quickly your book will dry. Aim for one or two changes per day. (Note: the thickness of the book makes it unsuitable for a drying box; however, a fan aimed towards your drying stack may aid the drying process.)

An accordion book structure can be made similarly. Instead of leaving an exposed strip on the left side of each sheet, alternate the exposed sides. [See Diagram] Thus, if you leave a strip exposed along the left side of your first sheet, offsetting your pellon to the right and couching your second sheet directly over the first, then your second pellon should completely cover the left edge of the book, leaving a strip along the right side exposed to fuse to the third wet sheet. Alternate the pellon placement as you move through the book, again covering the entire book with your final pellon.

For the most elegant results, you will want to set up a good registration system to ensure that you couch your sheets directly on top of one another and position your pellon evenly. One method is to lay string longer than the size of your page and pellon across the bottom of your working stack, marking both the edge of the page and the one-inch spine.

Pockets and folders can be created in the sheets using similar methods. For example, pull a sheet smaller than the size of your page. Let’s say this sheet is 4 x 4 inches. Now cut a piece of pellon to prevent the pocket from fusing. You will want three edges of this small sheet to fuse to the page behind it, so you could cut the pellon to 3 x 5 inches. Place the pellon on the base sheet and couch your 4 x 4 sheet on top of this pellon so that three sides of the pocket land around the pellon. A strip of pellon will be left uncovered, sticking out the pocket’s top and ensuring that you have a way to access this pocket. Once the book is dry, you can simply pull this pellon out. (Another note on drying: you will want to leave the pellon in this pocket undisturbed throughout the drying process. Do not exchange it for drier materials or you are likely to make a mess of your book!)

Also note that you can work imagery into your book using stenciling or pulp painting as you would on any sheet of paper. The only trick here is working on the verso of the page. It can be done! You just have to reverse your thinking a little bit, placing the imagery onto your pellon before you couch the page on which that image will appear. Whatever layer you want on top will be laid down on the pellon first. Thus if I am pulp painting a black squiggle on top of a grey triangle on an orange page, I will first paint my squiggle onto the pellon, then paint or stencil my grey triangle, and finally place the orange sheet on top. I can then build up the image I want on the front of the page (i.e., orange sheet with grey triangle on top and black squiggle painted over that).

Once you master these few simple principles (and get your brain doing the gymnastics of flipping these images around) the possibilities for structure are endless and you can achieve the satisfaction of not only creating images entirely of pulp, but of creating books bound entirely by fiber.

by Mary Tasillo